Avoiding the CEO revolving door

With the turnover of CEOs at a record level, successful business leadership is being redefined to put more emphasis on attitude than on technical or administrative skills, an expert explained at a special leadership session during the NRA show.

Justin Menkes, an organizational psychologist and authority on C-suite leadership, sketched out three essentials for success in leading today’s restaurant companies. As he explained during his presentation at the Women’s Foodservice Forum’s Leadership Breakfast, the disciplines are interdependent; leaders cannot succeed with one and not the others.

Here are the common traits he’s spotted in leaders who’ve succeeded during times of great turbulence:

They have realistic optimism

Realistic optimism is having the ability to “see the environment and the challenges in front of you, to be confident that you can overcome them, but not blind to actual risks,” said Menkes. “Remain confident that challenges can be overcome if you come together as a team and help others achieve their maximum potential. The people that find optimism in their circumstances are the ones that thrive.”

They have subservience to purpose

How do you maintain [authenticity] when you are in an authoritative position? Menkes answered, “You have to have a sense of subservience. Organizations that win today show a sense of noble purpose. It’s not about them; it’s about the mission of what they are trying to do. It has to mean something, be tangible, be defined, and relate to what they are doing on a daily basis.” Menkes asked Kroger supermarket employees why they care about their jobs. They responded, “Because 10% of American families come through our door every day and if I can make their days brighter or easier, then I make a difference.” They believe that it’s more than just a job; it’s contributing to a greater purpose.

They find order in chaos

In an ever changing, fast, complex world, leaders must find the calm during the storm and stay positive in order to succeed. “Part of executive intelligence is the ability to think through complicated problems with your team under pressure. [Leaders] that thrive are the ones that focus on their people to find the good ideas, and not focus on what they do badly. Help other people find their best solutions. Bring out the best in others, because by doing so, you are actually bringing out the best in yourself,” said Menkes.

While great leaders have inherent traits, Menkes’ principles are based on learned behaviors. He explained, “It’s not about what you’re born with, it’s about understanding yourself and what you might have in terms of your own traits and then finding the context in which you may apply them. Context in which our leaders help us bring out our better qualities or some of our weaker ones. Are you born [a leader] or do you become [one]? It’s a combination.”

Yet it’s a combination that boards of directors increasingly fail to recognize in the CEOs of their companies. “[We’ve seen the] highest rate of CEO turnovers in the last 12 months that we have ever seen,” said Menkes. “Eighteen percent of Fortune 500 companies made a change at the CEO position. From 1955 to 1995, over 3/4 of industry leaders remained the same over that 40 year period. From 1995 to 2004, more than 50% of those leading companies ceased to exist.

“[Leaders] are under incredible amounts of pressure,” he commented.

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